Caught up with an old teammate yesterday. It was good for a lot of reasons. Nostalgia, memories, tales. But mainly because since joining the broadcasting team, I’ve been afraid of my old teammates. When I think about why I am, it’s completely illogical. The game doesn’t last for ever and we all move on and have to do other things with different expectations. But, still, I have this creeping dread of going into the locker room because I know that I’ve been critical of the guys on the team, and then I have to come into their turf and face them.
I doesn’t matter that I used to be one of them. Hell, in a lot of ways that makes it worse. I know players like to act as if they don’t hear, or care about what the media says about them, but it’s just that: an act. They care. That’s why they tell everyone that they don’t. Funny, if a person really didn’t care about what others thought, they wouldn’t need to tell anyone at all. They hear the criticism and it makes them cold, and if you’re the guy that gave that unfavorable critique, it can get pretty chilly for you.
It’s not like sports and media is the only place this happens. There is a whole world of people trying hard to act is if they don’t care what others think. All of us care. We all hunger for validation in our respective pursuits and are horrified if it comes in a derisive way. If we could only look into ourselves and accept that we have the power to validate us over the words said about us we’d harbor less angst, anger, and anxiety.
I can say it but I can’t do it. I know a lot of other players—and people—can’t do it either. It’s built into us to want approval from others. Part of straining to be the best is so that people will acknowledge you as the best. It’s a comparison term. Furthermore, you can be the best, but, as many athletes who have been the best in their respective sports but have failed to win the hearts of the masses have proven, just because you are the greatest doesn’t mean anyone has to respect your greatness. We grant and abstain from validating behaviors all the time—it’s the most commonly traded commodity we have as a civilization.
To be great at a media job you can’t care about what other people think of you. To play baseball in the public eye, you can’t care about what people think of you. But to be human is to care about what people think of you—it is to care for and about the people around you. So, in a sense, trying to be a great player or a great media face means you have to shed some of your humanity.
It’s a fine line, and waking it daily is a grind. The formula of courting the opinion of one group while simultaneously condemning it is a volatile one. In this age of social media and direct access, everyone has something to say and everyone thinks their thoughts should matter. But they’re only fooling themselves… or maybe we’re the fools for letting it. Not everyone’s thoughts do or should matter, and it’s better for everyone that way. Or at least it would be if we could accept it.
What I’ve learned since turning from player to media man is that what the fans see on the field or in the booth is not the person, it is the job. They see only what is represented there and reverse engineer the person from it based on their opinions of the work. it’s a sad and stupid thing to do. A name, a title, and a gilded backstory as presented by a profession do not summarize a human. Fans do not see the personal struggle that family sees. They do not understand the desire of the heart that friends see. They do not truly know the person, and thus their opinions on the person are hypothetical at best.
To survive it seems that one is forced to become less human. A scary thought: to willfully shut off one’s humanity for the sake of enduring a life constantly on trial in the court of social opinion. Or, is it possible to transcend it all by recognizing it as a play. A grand stunt to let those on the outside feel as if they’re are connected and validated. That it’s just baseball, just media, and nothing more than entertainment, all part of a culture obsessed with being entertained, desperate to press their opinions onto something everyone sees in hopes of being validated themselves. The winner today is tomorrow’s loser in a game that has no winners or losers except for those who agree to believe they are.
And now, to complete my hypocrisy, I shall post Facebook with a link to it from Twitter, hoping for as may likes as I can get.